What demonetisation did to digital payments, COVID-19 is doing to Yulu, says co-founder Amit Gupta

In the latest episode of 100x Entrepreneur Podcast, Amit Gupta talks about his journey from InMobi to Yulu, his core beliefs and principles, and angel investing.

Amit Gupta, Co-founder of InMobi and Yulu

Amit Gupta, the co-founder of InMobi, India’s first unicorn, needs no introduction. Amit took the entrepreneurial plunge for the second time with Yulu, a startup in the e-bikes and mobility solutions space. 

An alumnus of IIT Kanpur and Harvard Business School, he started Yulu in 2017, and soon convinced Rajiv Bajaj, MD at Bajaj Auto, to invest in his startup to assemble Yulu bikes in India. Amit is also an angel investor and has backed more than 30 early-stage startups so far. These include HealthifyMe, Applicate, and Vahak

In this week’s 100x Entrepreneur Podcast, a series featuring founders, venture capitalists, and angel investors, Amit spoke to Siddharth Ahluwalia, discussing the former’s experience of building two successful companies, and his core beliefs and principles as a long-time entrepreneur. 

Taking the entrepreneurial route 

Amit comes from a family of businessmen. He says that everyone, apart from him, was involved in the family business. He was an exception and his mother motivated him to pursue a different educational field, unlike all his cousins. This led Amit to IIT Kanpur. 

“I was part of a group which was very aspirational, and had a far wide perspective of life and future,” he says.

Amit says he was confused between working for someone else and returning home and joining his family business, as he had initially promised his father. However, Amit convinced his father to allow him to work outside.

Amit’s first job was in a startup in Bengaluru in 2000. It was a software development company with less than 100 employees. “I soon realised that while this was good, I was craving for something else...there was a DNA to do something on my own from very early on,” he says. 

Starting up InMobi 

Amit then went on to work for Citibank, and later for another startup in Bengaluru. “I gave myself a timeline that by 30, I should be on my own,” he says. 

A month before turning 30-years old, Amit decided to start his first company, Analytics Works. It ran for six months. In the meantime, Naveen Tiwari, Founder of InMobi, was returning to India after completing his MBA, and had plans to start something. The duo started discussing ideas out of Amit’s office. Naveen then initiated a conversation around starting a venture together, and that’s how Amit joined InMobi

Back in 2007, the duo thought SMS would go on to become mainstream, and started a company called mKhoj. Inspired by Google, mKhoj was trying to disrupt searching on mobile phones. “But then we realised that search on SMS using a short-code was probably not a cool idea,” Amit says. 

They then created a business model like that of Groupon, aggregating deals and discounts. However, that business model did not fly and the team realised that getting people used to this new way of interacting with technology is not going to happen. The team soon realised that mobile will be a format for the future for all data consumption, and that led to the inception of InMobi. 

The Yulu story 

While Amit planned to start a company of his own by 30, he also wanted to retire by 40. However, by the time he was approaching 40, Amit wanted to give back to the society.

“I did not want to pick up a problem for the heck of it,” he says. Amit, who lived two to three kilometres away from the InMobi office, would usually take five to six minutes to reach his workplace. But sometime down the line, it started taking him 35 minutes to reach his office. Besides this, deteriorating air quality started making the headlines. “So, I thought of picking them (increasing traffic and deteriorating air-quality) as a mission statement for myself and solve for that,” Amit says. 

And that is how Yulu came into existence. Founded in 2017, Yulu provides dock-less bikes and EVs (Yulu Miracle) for first-mile, last-mile, and short distance commutes. Today, Yulu has 10,000 EVs on the road. Before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Yulu clocked 40,000 rides every day across Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, and Ahmedabad.  

Yulu EV and bicycle

On-boarding Bajaj Auto

Yulu gets its hardware from China, which was then assembled in India. However, Amit says: “We have been building this business for India, and we felt we need the whole supply chain sitting here and that too, in the hands of some trusted partner.” 

He then reached out to Bajaj Auto Limited and spoke with Rajiv Bajaj, sharing the vision with him. Rajiv was fascinated with the idea and Bajaj Auto started assembling Yulu bikes in India in 2019.

Similarly, the batteries for Yulu Miracles are also being built in India. “From day one, 60 to 65 percent of the value of the product is actually from India...At the same time, our mid to long-term strategy for Bajaj is to make our vehicles, and they have invested in the company,” Amit reveals. 

Talking about the impact of the pandemic on his business, Amit says, since May this year, the average distance and average time of usage per trip has gone up by 50 percent. On doing a survey with Yulu users and the general public, the startup established the fact that people have been and will be skipping public transportation, group mobility, and driver-led mobility.

The touchpoint in our vehicle is only three versus 35 in the case of a car and infinite in case of a bus. So, after your own personal vehicle, the safest way to move in the city is Yulu,” Amit explains.

Thus, Amit is of the opinion that although COVID-19 has created unprecedented times, it has actually fast-tracked appreciation and adoption for services like Yulu.

“So, something which demonetisation did for digital payments, I think COVID-19 actually has done something for Yulu,” Amit says. 

Angel investing 

Amit started angel investing to support entrepreneurs. So far, he has investment in about 30 tartups. “It was more about giving it back to the ecosystem,” says Amit.

While Amit’s investments are not sector-specific, he usually invests in companies whose founders he already knows, and if they are solving a problem that Amit can relate with. He reveals that Healthify has been his favourite investment. Amit has recently made commitments in an undisclosed startup that is solving in the education for sustainability space. 

Edited by Megha Reddy